The first time Charles Williams lined up against Fresno State, his hometown school, there was a little something extra there. How could there not be?
The UNLV running back had rolled up big numbers at Bullard High, rushing for more than 2,000 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns in his senior season, and the Bulldogs barely gave him a look. He made an unofficial visit, but the coaching staff at the time made it clear they were not particularly interested, even though running back was a dire position of need; the Bulldogs would sign three that year, 2016, and still … nothing.
“It was, ‘Hey, I’m right here, but you act like I’m not right in front of you,’” Williams said. “I saw the old staff come to a couple of my games in high school and it was kind of like, ‘You’re just here to look at other people, I guess.’ That’s how it was.”
So when Williams got his chance he made the most of it.
“I took that to heart,” he said.
That fall, as a true freshman in just his fifth college game, Williams racked up 153 yards and a touchdown on just 18 plays in the Rebels’ 45-20 victory over Fresno State in Las Vegas.
Leevel Tatum III, the Edison High grad and Bulldogs defensive end, was a UNLV teammate then. Inside. Tatum spent his first season of college football at UNLV before transferring back home. But he remembers that week in 2016. In practice, in meetings, Williams’ passion was palpable.
“That was, ‘Let me show that coaching staff what they missed out on,” Tatum said.
Last season, same thing. Williams, playing behind lead back Lexington Thomas, got 10 of his 16 carries in the fourth quarter of a game the Bulldogs led by plenty, but racked up another 121 yards against the hometown team.
On Friday, Williams gets his first and last chance to play at Bulldog Stadium, having missed the 2017 game with an injury when the Rebels came to town as a 22-point underdog and upset Fresno State 26-16.
“It is a big one,” said former Bulldogs running back Dejonte O’Neal, who preceded Williams at Bullard, then walked on at Fresno State, earned a scholarship and last season a Mountain West championship ring.
“All of them are big to him, but coming back to the Valley, playing in front of all his coaches, all of his hometown friends and everything like that. It has to hit home for him. I was blessed to be able to do this week in and week out when we were playing here, but when he gets the opportunity, you know he’s up for it.”
What might that bring?
Williams said he was looking forward to playing in front of family and friends, said there would be a little extra juice before the game. But the standard was set long ago. The dial goes up to 10, and the goal is to hit it in every game no matter the opponent, where the game is played or what has happened in the past.
Still, it’s difficult to dismiss history.
Williams at UNLV has developed into one of the most productive running backs in the nation. Despite limited touches in games at Wyoming and against No. 14 Boise State due to a knee injury, Williams is ranked fifth in the Mountain West in rushing attempts per game (15.0), but is second in yards per game (99.7). He is tied for 48th in rushing attempts per game in the FBS, but tied for 24th in rushing yards per game.
“He’s just playing ball,” said O’Neal. who works out with Williams when both are in Fresno.
Williams also is tied for the conference lead and 12th in the nation with seven explosive rushing plays of 20 or more yards, and with seven rushing touchdowns he leads all running backs in the conference. He is just one behind Wyoming quarterback Sean Chambers, the Kerman High grad, and Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said UNLV does a good job of featuring both Williams and Chad Magyar, calling them “two good running backs.”
Tedford’s scouting report on Williams: “He’s a 190-pound back who is elusive, physical. He has the speed to get to the edge, but he runs hard between the tackles.
“He’s a quality back. But what I’ve seen so far, they do a good job of trading guys in and out. ... they try to keep him fresh. But he’s a good player. There’s no doubt about it. He’s a good player. They lead with the run and he’s a big part of what they do.”
Against Mountain West opponents, Williams has always been at his best against the Bulldogs:
Fresno State – 34 for 274, 8.1 yards per carry, 1 TD
San Jose State – 22 for 141, 6.4, 1
Boise State – 28 for 107, 3.8, 0
Hawaii – 16 for 95, 5.9, 0
Wyoming – 18 for 81, 4.5, 0
San Diego State – 16 for 53, 3.3, 0
Nevada – 9 for 48, 5.3, 0
Colorado State – 8 for 41, 5.1, 0
New Mexico – 9 for 31, 3.4, 0
Utah State – 11 for 21, 1.9, 0
Air Force – no career carries
“He tells me it’s another game and stuff, but I know in his heart, it’s Fresno State,” Tatum said. “I was there our freshman year and how he took it out on Fresno State, and last year in the fourth quarter. This is going to be a little more to the heart for him.
“It is just another game, and it’s the same thing for me, after transferring. It’s in my heart, but it’s a team thing.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Williams said. “It’s a little exciting, but you can’t get too excited. I wouldn’t necessarily say I get ready for it every year. I guess there’s a little extra juice in my system before the game and everything and I just go out and play my game, have fun, play against the hometown team and get the job done.”